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The Buzz’s Florida congressional vulnerability rankings, pre-election edition

Things are tightening up as the November general election nears.
Florida Democratic congressional candidates Donna Shalala, speaks to volunteers at a get out the vote event with fellow congressional candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Oct. 17 in Coral Gables. Shalala has not run away with the race. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Published Oct. 22, 2018

It's been about six weeks since we last ranked Florida's congressional seats based on how likely they are to flip control during November's midterm elections.

The biggest change in our new rankings is that there are no longer any races rated "highly vulnerable," now that it's become clear that Democrat Donna Shalala has not run away with the race in her effort to flip a Miami district.
Inching up our vulnerability list is the open seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Dennis Ross and the seat held by GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. At the same time, the GOP has improved its chances of holding the district represented by Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan.

All told, we are placing six seats in the "vulnerable" category — all of them held by Republicans. The only Democratic-held seat at any significant risk is the one held by Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who joins Buchanan in the "potentially vulnerable" category.

The districts below are ranked in descending order from most vulnerable to least vulnerable. We have sorted the districts into four categories — "highly vulnerable," "vulnerable," "potentially vulnerable" and "minimally vulnerable." The seats in the delegation not listed below are not considered vulnerable at this time.

HIGHLY VULNERABLE

No races in this category.

VULNERABLE

1. District 27: Open seat (Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R, is retiring) (shift from from highly vulnerable)
This majority Hispanic district in Miami and Miami Beach remains No. 1 on our list, but we're downgrading it from "highly vulnerable" to "vulnerable." It was previously held by moderate Republican Ros-Lehtinen, but Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential race in the district by 19 points. Shalala — the former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary and University of Miami president — won a hotly contested primary thanks to strong fundraising connections and name recognition, but her lack of native Spanish-language ability and baggage stemming from her tenure at Miami have hampered her ability to nail down the race. By contrast, Republicans have been pleased with their nominee, former Univision journalist Maria Elvira Salazar; she is well known locally and is experienced in the politics of the local Cuban community. Salazar supporters pounced when Shalala initially planned to campaign with U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, who has been friendly to Cuba and Venezuela — an unforced error for the first-time congressional candidate. Salazar narrowly led Shalala in a recent Mason-Dixon poll, but Shalala was up by a mid-single-digit margin in polls by the New York Times/Siena College and by a Democratic polling firm. Shalala can still win, but it won't be as easy as previously expected.

2. District 26: Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R)
Curbelo, who represents a district that Hillary Clinton won by 16 points in 2016, has worked hard to distance himself from President Donald Trump, and his Cuban background is helpful in this heavily Cuban district. But Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a nonprofit consultant, is making a concerted challenge. The New York Times/Siena College poll found Curbelo up by a mid-single-digit margin, but Mucarsel-Powell has polled in a virtual dead heat with Curbelo in three separate polls by Democratic pollsters as well as one by an independent pollster, Mason-Dixon. This one is close down the stretch.

3 (tie). District 15: Open seat (Rep. Dennis Ross, R, is retiring) (Previous ranking: 7-tie; shift from potentially vulnerable)
This seat, which stretches from the Tampa suburbs to Lakeland and backed Trump by 10 points, has continued its somewhat unexpected ascent in our rankings. State Rep. Ross Spano, the Republican, faces Democrat Kristen Carlson, a former general counsel to the Florida Department of Citrus. An early October poll by a Republican firm had Spano up by seven, but a subsequent independent poll by SurveyUSA had the two candidates tied.

3 (tie). District 6: Open seat (Rep. Ron DeSantis, R, running for governor) (Previous ranking: 5-tie; shift from potentially vulnerable)
This Daytona Beach-St. Augustine open seat — currently represented by gubernatorial candidate DeSantis — gave Trump a 16-point victory in 2016. But Nancy Soderberg, a former ambassador to the United Nations and deputy national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, is making a credible run against Mike Waltz, a former Green Beret, adviser to Dick Cheney, and Fox News contributor. An early October poll by a Democratic firm had the two candidates tied; Soderberg enters the home stretch with more cash on hand than Waltz, who has made loans to his campaign in the six figures.

5. District 18: Rep. Brian Mast (R) (Previous ranking: 4)
Mast, an Army bomb-disposal expert in Afghanistan who lost both legs below his knees, is in a competitive race with Lauren Baer, a former Obama administration official. Trump won the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast district by nine points. Recent polling has put Mast ahead by the low-to-mid single digits, but Baer has raised enough money to compete — she raised $1.7 million between July 19 and Sept. 30, more than Mast's haul of $984,000 (though Mast retains a lead in cash on hand).

6. District 25: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) (Previous ranking: 7-tie; shift from potentially vulnerable)
Diaz-Balart began this election cycle unlikely to face a serious challenge, thanks to his eight terms and prominent family name in this heavily Cuban district, which stretches from Miami to Republican-leaning precincts around Naples and Fort Myers. But Democrat Mary Barzee Flores, a former judge, has made it a race. A Democratic poll found Diaz-Balart with only a five-point lead.

POTENTIALLY VULNERABLE

7 (tie). District 7: Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D) (Previous ranking: 5-tie)
Republican hopes of flipping the only vulnerable Democratic-held congressional seat in Florida are dwindling. Murphy — the first Vietnamese-American woman to win a seat in Congress — represents an Orlando-area district that voted for Clinton by seven points and is home to a substantial Puerto Rican population. The nature of the district and the pro-Democratic political environment is making it tough for Republican state Rep. Mike Miller.

7 (tie). District 16: Vern Buchanan (R) (Previous ranking: 3; shift from vulnerable)
This race, in a Sarasota-based district that Trump won by 10 points, has been the one strongly positive development for Florida Republicans on this list. Democratic attorney David Shapiro initially seemed to be getting traction against the incumbent, who endured a years-long ethics inquiry (in which he was ultimately cleared) and then unwanted publicity for allegedly buying a $3 million yacht right after voting for the Republican tax bill. But a string of recent polls has showed Buchanan ahead by a comfortable margin, including an 11-point margin in a University of North Florida poll; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pulled ads in the district, a sign that the party has given up on flipping the seat.

MINIMALLY VULNERABLE

9 (tie). District 3 (Ted Yoho, R), District 8 (Bill Posey, R), District 12 (Gus Bilirakis, R)
These incumbents represent districts that Trump won by double digits. Yoho faces Yvonne Hayes Hinson, a former Gainesville city commissioner; Posey faces Sanjay Patel, a management consultant and Democratic state committee member; and Bilirakis faces Chris Hunter, a former federal prosecutor and former FBI agent. Each of the Republicans should be safe, barring a massive blue wave.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

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